Her absence is like the sky, spread over everythingC.S. Lewis
Collin arrived out at the ranch the same time as the contractor. The two men get out of their vehicles and greet one another.
“Hello, Mr. Bradley?”
“Yes, but you can just call me Jake.”
The two men shook hands before turning turn to face the main house. Jake let out a low whistle as he looked over the façade of the house.
“So, the house needs a lot of work. Willie told me you were looking at replacing the roofs on all of the structures, and possibly replacing the front porch. Is that right?”
Jake pulled a pen from his shirt pocket as he made notes on a legal pad.
Collin nodded. “Yeah. I figured I’d work on getting everything water tight, and then start on whatever project is the next most dyer,” Collin explained.
Jake looked around and laughed. “It’s all dyer, but I understand what you mean. We’ll start with the roofs and replace anything that compromises the integrity of the structures.”
“Sounds good to me. Cost isn’t something I’m too concerned about, I just want to save as much of the original structures as I can,” Collin explains.
“Have you checked out any of the outbuildings?” Jake asks as he turns and eyes the ranch.
“Not really. All you really have to do is look at the condition of everything to know that it’s a safe bet to just assume everything needs some kind of major something,” Collin stated.
“That’s true,” Jake said as he took notes. “For the outbuildings, I would recommend a metal roof. I would even recommend one for the main house as well, unless there is a reason you want to go another direction.”
“I was actually going to ask you about metal roofing. In this area, I just feel its a better option.
“I feel for what you’re trying to accomplish, it is the better and most cost effective option,” Jake told him. After a few more minutes and some additional note taking, he looked up at Collin and nodded towards the front of the house.
“What about the front porch?”
Collin sighed. Now that he had the contractor here, things were taking on a new reality. He was going to spend thousands to save the ranch, remodel the house, and make things look like they used to, but his mom still wouldn’t be here.
His mom had always wanted the porch to wrap around the house and create an “L” shape. She had always wanted an outdoor dinning area off the kitchen and dinning room, as well as have the front porch extend the entire length of the front of the house so a swing could be added.
Collin cleared his throat as it started to tighten.
“I, um, I would like it replaced, and possibly expanded so that it runs the entire length of the house and then turn and run down the length of the house by the kitchen and dinning room,” he explained.
“It would definitely give it more character. The siding needs to be replaced in areas. There are better siding options on the market than what’s on the house, but I can always just replace what’s missing,” Jake noted.
Collin nodded. “I honestly hadn’t thought about the siding, but it needs to be done or it won’t be water tight. But yeah, siding options would be great.”
Jake nodded and kept making notes while Collin ran a hand through his hair. The roofing choice had been a no brainer, but the siding? What if he made the wrong choice? Sure, it was his house, but he didn’t want to make the home something his mother wouldn’t like.
Collin cringed at the thought. But his mother wasn’t here. She was dead, so he only had to make himself happy with the choices.
“Was there anything else you wanted handled at the moment?” Jake asked.
“Nope. I just wanted to get everything taken care of before the fall rains start.”
“Yeah, no worries. I’ll get this quote over to you in a few days. I’m going to measure the roofs and then I’ll head out.”
“That sounds good to me.”
Collin was going to say something more when his cellphone started to ring. He looked down at the caller ID before answering.
“If you need to take off, we’re good here,” Jake called out as he grabbed his ladder.
Collin looked down at his phone in his hand. “Yeah, I do need to take this. I’m staying at Willie’s house for the next few weeks, so if you can’t get me on the phone, just stop by over there,” Collin told Jake.
“I’m not too worried about it. Cottonwood isn’t a big town, so I’ll find you if I need you.”
Collin nodded and strode off towards his rental car. His phone had stopped ringing, but he knew Veronica wouldn’t call without a good reason.
Collin got into the car and typed out a quick message.
Veronica, give me five minutes and then we’ll video
Her response was quick, like she had been waiting by her phone.
KK Sry to bother, something happened
Of course something happened. He rested his forehead against the steering wheel before taking a deep fortifying breath. God help him, but it better not be Billy.
Collin carefully took off down the driveway before making his way to Willie’s ranch. The older man had given him use of the library, so Collin had set up shop there.
He rushed into the house and woke up his laptop before hitting the call button on the video chat.
“Collin! Oh my god, I’m so glad to see you,” Veronica all but cried into the camera.
Collin opened his mouth and then closed it. He took in Veronica’s surroundings.
“Why aren’t you in the office? What the hell happened?” Collin barked.
He noticed figures milling around in the background of the airport. She was supposed to be at the office handling the Tokyo deal through videoconference. That was what he and Frank had landed on.
“Daddy and Mr. Dean felt it would reflect poorly on you if someone didn’t fly to Tokyo and handle the deal in person,” Veronica explained.
Collin nodded. He took in her designer athletic wear, messy bun, smudged makeup, and dark circles.
“When did you leave?”
“Last night. There weren’t any nonstop, so I caught a red eye to Hawaii and am waiting for my flight. I’m working here in the terminal, so don’t worry, the team won’t fall behind,” Veronica assured.
“Vee, I’m not worried because you’re more than capable of handling anything I have. What I’m confused about is why on earth sending you to Japan at the last minute on a deal that only needed a pair of signatures was the way to go.”
Veronica bit her lip and looked away. She was silent and Collin could see her eyes getting misty. Veronica took a few deep breaths before looking back at the camera.
“I think Daddy is going to get rid of me,” Veronica quietly told Collin through the microphone connected to the ear pods she was wearing.
Collin was stunned into a brief silence. He knew one of the partners was retiring, opening up a position he was hoping to be asked to fill. Maybe that’s why Frank sent Veronica to Japan?
“Well, isn’t Dean getting ready to retire? Maybe your Frank wants to make sure there is no wiggle room regarding my invitation to be a partner,” Collin suggested.
“I didn’t think about it like that.” Veronica discreetly wiped her eyes. Then she smiled a little.
“I shouldn’t be putting this on you while you are handling your mother’s estate and funeral. I’m sorry, I’m just worried I’ll mess this up with Mr. Bishop and Mr. Yoshimoto, and then Daddy said I needed to go. Then he said if I’m not back by Friday afternoon, then I might as well not come back at all,” Veronica explained on a rush.
“So, I just, well, I guess, I’m just tired, worried, stress, and unsure.”
Collin nodded. He opened his mouth to reply when Veronica’s words finally caught up with his brain.
“Wait. What? You’re not staying in Japan for the weekend before flying back?”
“No, Daddy said I needed to get there in time for the meeting and then get my ass back by Friday afternoon for my client,” Veronica told him.
Collin digested this information. There had been rumors regarding Dean’s retirement. Word on the street was that the partners were having a difference of opinion and the law firm might split.
He knew the Ellis’ were not happy with Billy’s performance and they had even questioned Veronica’s personal morals. However, Edmund Dean made no excuses for his grandson. He bailed him out, but he didn’t make excuses.
Frank didn’t defend Veronica at all. Rather, he pointed to her sparkling clean record and let it speak for her professional self. Her private self was her business, and that was the end of any talk.
Neither of the Ellis’ were impressed with the younger Dean Phillips. While Veronica brought in her share of clients and money, the men viewed her as a slut. Meanwhile, Billy was considered an incompetent buffoon. And while Collin wasn’t always impressed with Billy’s work, the guy was starting to figure it out.
“How are you feeling about the presentation? Do you have everything you need? Would you like me to join the meeting via video chat?”
Veronica sniffled softly. She then sighed and played with the cord a little. “I would love for you to be in on the meeting if you have time. I can handle the meeting on my own, but I don’t know the specifics like you do and I don’t want to give bad information,” Veronica said.
“Ok, I’ll plan on being in the meeting. Then when you get to the hotel we can have a brief phone call and you can sleep,” Collin said,
“I can call you on my way to the airport. After that meeting, I’m catching a plane back otherwise I won’t be back in time for my meeting on Friday.”
Collin was fuming. “So, let me get this straight. You are flying red eyes to Japan, getting ready for a meeting an airport bathroom, and then flying directly back on red eyes. They seriously didn’t get you a hotel?”
Veronica winced at Collin’s tone. “That sums it up.”
Collin let out a few choice words. “I’m calling, Vee. They aren’t doing this to you! Who is the client you’re meeting with on Friday that you can’t video call?”
“No, don’t call! It’ll just make things worse. It’s a new client, a Mrs…” Veronica trailed off as she looked for the name in her notes. “Ah, a Mrs. Olivia Hampton.”
“Hampton… that names sounds familiar,” Collin said.
“She is a Christian producer,” Veronica supplied.
“That’s it! Why does she need us?”
“I guess she wasn’t happy with her previous legal council, so she ran into Mr. Hamilton, he sang my praises after I helped you with one of his deals,” Veronica explained. “I hope you don’t mind. I can easily turn it into a consultation for you.”
“Vee, I don’t need another client. I have my own big clients and do just fine. I’m really happy for you and I’m really happy Mr. Hamilton suggested you, I think you’ll be a great fit,” Collin told her.
“Really? Everyone has been calling me the office slut or easy Vag,” Veronica admitted. “I wouldn’t think my lifestyle choices would qualify me.”
“Who says that about you? That’s sexual harassment! Your personal life is yours, no one else’s. I won’t tolerate it, you’re a damn fine lawyer,” Collin said.
“Billy and Jennifer defend me, but I told them to stop. It’s because of our relationship, and one I had previous while in law school. I’m used to the name calling and baseless accusations.”
Collin closed his eyes and let out a low growl. “You shouldn’t have to get used to it. And we’ve gone out to dinner a few times, flirt with each other in the office on occasion, but nothing more than that.”
“It’s just water cooler gossip from a bunch of insecure, jealous wannabes. I ignore it.” Veronica smiled bravely at Collin through the screen, but she wasn’t fooling him.
She deserved better than the treatment she was getting from the others, and even from him. He enjoyed their playful banter, and he loved the conversations at dinner discussing everything from art to anime to boy bands. Despite all that, and the obvious chemistry, they had never done more than make-out with some light petting.
He didn’t want to ring the sex bell with Veronica because he valued her on his team and if things went bad, then it would get awkward. You can’t unring the sex bell once the deed has been done.
Veronica suddenly jumped up. “They are calling my flight for boarding. I’ll text you when I’ve landed and I promise to look professional. I’ll study the contracts again on the flight.”
“Safe travels, get some sleep, and Vee?”
She stopped shuffling around and packing her items.
“I love you.”
Veronica smiled. “I love you too.”
She blew him a kiss before ending the call.
Collin leaned back in his chair and sighed deeply. How oblivious was he in life? Did he make all the women in his life miserable with his singular focus and no regard to what they were going through?
“So, that’s what you do all day? Sit in front of a computer, have a conversation with a beautiful woman, and then tell her you love her?” Willie said from the doorway.
Collin looked over at him. “Pretty much. Sometimes I even blow them kisses and send flowers.”
“Aside from the beautiful women, your job seems kinda boring to me, but then I was always more of a hands on worker.”
“I like hands on work too, but I also love contract law. Even if I were a rancher, I’d still be a part-time lawyer.”
Willie snorted. “You’re crazy! My daughter is crazy too. Always running off with these guys who are going to make her happy, and instead they break her heart. Rather than chasing her career and dream, she’s chasing theirs.”
He let out a deep sigh. “She won’t listen to me though, instead she keeps going after these yuppies who don’t know a good thing when they see it!”
Collin smiled. “Is that right?”
“Darn straight! Emma said she’ll be home in a few days. She said she didn’t want to miss the funeral and Wyoming had nothing to offer her so she’s staying on at the ranch for a while.”
Collin laughed. “I take it she dumped another loser yuppy.”
Willie nodded. “Yep. She knows she’s my little girl and can always come home, but I wish she would stay single and focus on her.”
“How often does she visit?”
“At least three times a year. Usually when some fool breaks her heart, but not always. Sometimes she just misses her daddy and the ranch.”
Collin nodded and smiled. “Sounds like you’re a lucky man.”
“That I am. Is your lady friend you were talking to your girlfriend?”
“No. She and I have a friendly flirtation based on mutual attraction. Her dad is my boss, so we try to keep things PG-13, if you know what I mean.”
“Well, its always good to have a friend. If you’re about done with your lawyer stuff, I can show you cattle ranching stuff. You know, your new found hobby,” Willie joked.
Collin laughed. “That’s exactly what Aunt Lily said this morning.”
“Great minds,” Willie said tapping his head. “Did she send you home with any of her special snacks?”
Collin nodded to the open container next to him.
“You’ve been holding out on me, boy! Lilly’s petite cakes are legendary in these parts.”
“Well, help yourself.”
Willie took four of the cakes then took a bite out of one. He moaned in satisfaction.
“Come, boy! We have work to do.”
Collin chuckled and followed the old rancher from the room.
Collin was sitting behind the desk in Willie’s library working on his laptop with his phone to his ear. He had spent a good portion of the afternoon and evening with Willie.
Then his Mom’s lawyer had sent an email regarding the will and Collin had asked if he had time to go through it quickly.
“I understand the terms of Mom’s will. Thanks for emailing it to me and for taking my call after hours,” Collin said.
“You’re her only child and sole heir so everything was left to you. In order to keep the ranch, you’ll have to make the mortgage payments, or pay it off,” Michael said.
“Once I saw the condition of the ranch, I reached out to my financial adviser and assistant and have them working on it for me,” Collin explained.
Michael, his Mom’s lawyer, grunted his approval.
“Sounds good. She only had a small life insurance policy and that is going towards paying for her funeral expenses.”
Collin nodded out of habit. “Yeah, she had mentioned that to me a few years back, and it’s not a problem.”
“Do you have any questions? Everything is very straightforward,” Michael said.
“No, I’m good. I’ll call you though if I do have any though. Thank you for your time.”
“Not a problem, and I am sorry for the loss of your mother,” Michael added.
Collin hung up the phone. He checked the time and then hopped up to get ready for the video chat. Veronica would be texting any moment to make sure he was ready to jump on the conference.
He ran upstairs, put on a clean shirt and tie before grabbing a jacket and bolting back down to his laptop.
Veronica texted and Collin sent back he was ready. A moment later he was connected. He knew he really didn’t need to be on this call because Veronica nailed it.
She remembered the cultural cues and differences between the Japanese and American business cultures. Mr. Yoshimoto was too gracious and forgiving to hold a grudge when someone new forgot, but he was notably impressed.
Mr. Bishop was equally impressed. She handled questions regarding certain clauses, and deferred to Collin only a few times. He felt it was because she had asked him to be on the call and felt guilty for not needing him.
At the end, both gentlemen invited Veronica to dinner before she boarded her plane. Collin told her to enjoy the dinner. Then he texted her and told him he would cover any expenses regarding flight changes.
Veronica thanked him and told him she would check in with him next week.
Collin sighed as he closed his laptop. The next week was going to be difficult to get through, but at least he didn’t have to worry about his clients.
He checked the time, ran his hands through his hair, and then headed up the stairs. He needed to pack up mom’s house and he wasn’t looking forward to that at all.
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